Tuesday, June 26, 2018

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: Cuban victims of the Castro regime

Torture is a mortal sin! Christian communities must commit themselves to helping victims of torture. - Pope Francis

June 26th is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and sadly there are many in Cuba who are torture victims. The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), defines "torture" as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."  

The International Center for Transitional Justice explains on its website that "truth can help victims to find closure by revealing the details of the events they suffered, such as the fate of forcibly disappeared loved ones or why certain people were targeted for abuse. Moreover, knowing the truth about past events enables proper mourning practices, essential to most cultures, helping to achieve personal and communal healing."

Most Cuban victims of torture remain unknown, but there are high profile cases that are the tip of the iceberg. Below is a partial sampling of some of those cases. Others are mentioned in the 1987 documentary Nobody Listened (Nadie Escuchaba).

This is due in part because prisoners of conscience are denied family visits leaving them at the mercy of prison officials with no one from the outside to be able to vouch for their condition. This leads to extreme cases were family members must demand proof of life, unsure whether their loved one is still alive.  This still goes on today.

There are other cases that are well documented outside of the prisons.

In March 2018 mother and son were beaten up by Cuban secret police for exercising their fundamental rights. Asunción Carrillo is a Lady in White who had spent years campaigning for her son's freedom. Trade unionist Iván Hernández Carrillo, a former prisoner of conscience is Asunción's son. When she tried to go to Church she was grabbed and mistreated by the secret police and when her son tried to intervene on her behalf they beat him down, kicked him, dragged him down the street, handcuffed him and continued to beat him in the jeep where he had been thrown like a sack.

This is Cuba in 2018, but it has been going on for a long time. Other well documented cases hit at the dark underbelly of the dictatorship in Cuba and its intolerance for all kinds of dissent.

Sirley Avila Leon following May 2015 machete attack ordered by secret police
Sirley Ávila León was a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba from June 2005, for the rural area of Limones until 2012 when the regime gerrymandered her district out of existence. The Castro regime removed her from her position because she had fought to reopen a school in her district, but been ignored by official channels and had reached out to international media. Her son, Yoerlis Peña Ávila, who had an 18 year distinguished career in the Cuban military was forced out when he refused to declare his mother insane and have her committed to a psychiatric facility.

Sirley joined the ranks of the democratic opposition and repression against her increased dramatically. On May 24, 2015 she was the victim of a brutal machete attack carried out by Osmany Carriòn, with the complicit assistance of his wife, that led to the loss of her left hand, right upper arm nearly severed, and knees slashed into leaving her crippled. This attack was done on the orders of the secret police. Following the attack she did not receive adequate medical care and was told quietly by medical doctors in Cuba that if she wanted to get better that she would need to leave the country.

On March 8, 2016 she arrived in Miami and began a course of treatments over the next six months during which she was able to walk once again although still limited due to her injuries. She returned to Cuba on September 7, 2016 only to find her home occupied by strangers and her attacker free and bragging that he would finish the job. She moved in with her mother and within a short time a camera and microphone were set up across from her mother's home on a post.

Threats against Sirley's life intensified leading her to flee Cuba to the United States and request political asylum on October 28, 2016. 

There have been other cases were medical mistreatment was apparently prescribed by the political police.

Omar Pernet Hernández August 15, 1945 - October 7, 2017
Cuban dissident and former prisoner of conscience Omar Pernet Hernández passed away in Louisville, Kentucky on October 7, 2017. Beginning in 1965 at age 18 he was imprisoned for the first time in Cuba for political reasons. Years later in an interview he would sum up his life in Cuba: "I was tortured in Castros' jails in four processes since 1965, when I was going to turn 19 years old."
 During his last imprisonment he described how doctors engaged in malpractice against him following a car accident while he was being transferred from one prison to another that left him crippled.
Omar Pernet: Look, the meaning of this, is that this type of boot that you see here....I will show it to you again. This boot was fitted for me in Cuba and it began to damage my hips because one, the left, is longer than the right. Then, one hip went like this 0:30 (shows the way hip is going up). Then, here in Spain, they said I couldn't go on wearing those boots, and they asked me to cut them down, and told me to make the ones I'm wearing. These I'm wearing now are stabilizing my hips.
INT: "How is it possible, since the Cuban doctors are so excellent normally, at least that's what the Cubans say, and promote throughout the world. That they should be so wrong? And hurt you so much? How many months did you stay that way in Cuba?"
OP: Well, in 2005, on the 5th of April, I began to wear these boots until the 17-18. I stayed like that until the 3rd of March of 2008 using those boots. These I'm wearing now are different, from Spain. " Stands up, 2:06, shows. "The only thing they did was to slap a cast on. They had me on a cast from the tips of my toes up to my neck for 18 months. The doctors here [in Spain] say they don't find any logic to it. That it was intolerable, the amount of time I spent in those conditions. The cast was removed twice, and each time it was to break my leg again." 
Omar Pernet Hernández was 72 years old when he passed away, a victim of cancer. He had spent 22 years in Castro's prisons for defying the communist regime and lived in forced exile for the final nine years of his life. He had been jailed in four different instances beginning with being sent to a forced labor camp for refusing military service, then jailed for trying to first leave Cuba, then jailed again for "enemy propaganda" when he denounced prison conditions, and finally sentenced to 25 years in prison for gathering signatures for Project Varela, a petition drive to reform Cuban laws to bring it in line with international human rights standards.

Physical and psychological torture and the denial of medical care or even water as punishment has proven fatal in the past.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo: Victim of prolonged torture
 Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on February 23, 2010 after years of torture, and a prolonged water only hunger strike.Prison authorities, in an effort to break him, denied him water over the course of more than two weeks on and off
On the day Orlando Zapata died, Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in a heartfelt message explained the circumstances surrounding the Cuban human rights defender's untimely death: 

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died on this afternoon, February 23, 2010, after suffering many indignities, racist slights, beatings and abuse by prison guards and State Security. Zapata was killed slowly over many days and many months in every prison in which he was confined. Zapata was imprisoned for denouncing human rights violations and for daring to speak openly of the Varela Project in Havana's Central Park. He was not a terrorist, or conspirator, or used violence. Initially he was sentenced to three years in prison, but after successive provocations and maneuvers staged by his executioners, he was sentenced to more than thirty years in prison.
He was moved around several prisons, including Quivicán Prison, Guanajay Prison, and Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. Where according to Amnesty International on October 20, 2003 Orlando was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by prison officials after requesting medical attention, leaving his back full of lacerations. Orlando managed to smuggle a letter out following a brutal beating it was published in April of 2004:
My dear brothers in the internal opposition in Cuba. I have many things to say to you, but I did not want to do it with paper and ink, because I hope to go to you one day when our country is free without the Castro dictatorship. Long live human rights, with my blood I wrote to you so that this be saved as evidence of the savagery we are subjected to... 
There have been other cases were medical treatment was denied as punishment with fatal results.

Sebastián Arcos Bergnes in front of his home on May 31, 1995 following his release
 In 1992 Sebastian Arcos Bergnes was charged with "enemy propaganda" and "inciting rebellion," he was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison. Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. Sebastian was transferred to Ariza Prison in  Cienfuegos Province,  more than 130 miles from Havana, where he was imprisoned alongside dangerous criminals and systematically denied medical attention. In 1993 the regime offered Sebastian a deal: He would be released immediately if he only agreed to leave the island for good. Sebastian rejected the deal, choosing prison in Cuba over freedom in exile.

After a prolonged international campaign Sebastian Arcos was released in 1995. A few weeks after his release, Arcos was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the rectum, for which he had previously been denied medical care in prison. After a Cuban doctor was fired from his post for diagnosing Arcos, he traveled to Miami for further care. In 1996, Sebastián Arcos Bergnes testified before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland:

My name is Sebastián Arcos Bergnes, and I am the Vice-president of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization founded in Cuba in 1976 to observe the respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the island.
On the 15 of January 1992 I was arrested in my home by the Cuban political police; the second time in ten years. On October of that year I was sentenced to 4 years and eight months in prison for the sole crime of reporting to this Commission the violations of human rights committed by the government of my country. The labor of those volunteers of this Commission inside of Cuba are considered by the government as "enemy propaganda."
I will not enter into the details concerning the multiple irregularities of the judicial process always against me, nor about the conditions that I had to tolerate for more than three years. I will refer solely to one aspect of this my last experience in Cuban prisons.
When I was arrested in January of 1992, I enjoyed excellent general health for a man my age, 60 years then. I weighed around 170 pounds, and ran 5 to 6 kilometers every morning. Eight months later, when after a campaign of denunciations of my family I was transferred finally to a military hospital, I'd lost over 30 pounds and suffered from multiple ailments.
My stay in the hospital was not long. In December of 1992 I was transferred to the Prison of Ariza in the Province of Cienfuegos, over 300 km from my home and my relatives. All of the medical treatments indicated by specialists of the military hospital were immediately suspended. During the next 30 months that I spent in Ariza my state of health worsened considerably, and I was systematically denied access to the medications that my family sent me.
During those 30 months only occasionally did I see inexperienced doctors that gave me incomplete medical exams and additionally lacked the medication to prescribe me. I have in my possession a detailed chronology of my repeated denunciations concerning the abandonment of my health by the Cuban authorities.
In February of 1994, in an attempt to refute my denunciations, the Cuban government presented before this Commission a strip of video filmed without my knowledge, in which I appeared to be undergoing a medical exam. That was the second and last time that I was taken to the hospital, that time for a cardiological exam which had been ordered with urgency on three previous occasions.
In mid - 1994 I commenced to suffer pains in my left leg, which later spread to the rest of my extremities. After a rapid examination, a doctor in the prison determined that I suffered from polineutritis -a deficiency illness very common in the Cuban jails, and he prescribed treatment with vitamins. The pain continued with me for nearly a year later when I was liberated as a result of a gesture of the humanitarian organization France Liberte.
A few days after being liberated the pain worsened suddenly. Many weeks later I had to be urgently admitted to the hospital, were a doctor (friend) discovered that I had a malignant tumor in the rectum. Finally I had to leave Cuba to receive medical treatment in Miami, where my children live. The medical team which examined me in Mercy Hospital diagnosed a rectal tumor of 8 cm of diameter, with more than a year and a half of growth, with metastasis in the bones of the pelvis. At only 4 cm from the anal sphincter, the tumor could have been easily detectable with a simple feel of the area which is included in a basic medical exam for any man over 50 years old. Attached here are medical diagnosis which confirm what I've been saying.
These conclusions put the Cuban government in a difficult juncture. Or the Cuban government didn't know of the existence of the tumor, and in that case they recognize that they did not give me adequate medical assistance; or I'm lying and the Cuban government did know about the tumor and hid that knowledge for more than a year.Or the Cuban government recognizes itself guilty of criminal negligence in my case, or it recognizes itself guilty of an attempted premeditated homicide against my person.
Mr. President:
Before I finish, I would like to make clear that mine is not an isolated case, but only an example of the regular practice of Cuban authorities in their treatment of prisoners of conscience. Out of the group of 6 political prisoners liberated by the Cuban government after the requests of France Liberte, only two enjoyed good health. In addition to my own case, Reinaldo Figueredo has cancer in his vocal chords, Luis Enrique Gonzalez Ogra has pancreatic cancer, and Ismael Salvia Ricardo is nearly blind. Terrible nutrition, crowded and unsanitary cells, housing with common violent criminals, violent repression, and reluctant medical assistance - if any- are the norm and not the exception in Cuban prisons.
Because of all this, Mr. President, it is urgent that this Commission demand of the Cuban government that it permit without restriction the International Red Cross to all the Cuban prisons, and that Cuba comply with the international statutes about prisoners and the treatment of prisoners. This is the least we can do in the short run to avoid that cases like mine be repeated, in which medical assistance came-tragically-when it was already far too late.
 Sebastián Arcos Bergnes died in Miami surrounded by relatives on December 22, 1997.

Cuban torture survivor Amado Rodriguez
These practices began in the first years of the Castro regime. The case of Amado Rodriguez who was born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba in 1943 illustrates this. At 13, he joined the 26th of July Movement against the Batista regime and was later sent into exile to save his life. At the height of the revolution, he returned and became an activist against the Castro regime.

He was arrested and spent a total of 23 years as a political prisoner during two different terms. He was 18 years old when he was first arrested in 1961 and sentenced to 30 years, of which he served 18. Four years later, Amado was arrested and sentenced to 15 years. He was released in 1989 and sent directly to the United States after serving five years, four of which he spent in solitary confinement.

Amado Rodriguez was considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. His release was the result of personal visits and petitions to the Cuban government from representatives of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross International, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a US Senator.

Amado described how by June of 1985 he was the only "plantado" prisoner at Boniato prison in jail cell #2 a small sealed punishment cell. He was only in underwear isolated without knowing whether it was day or night. Nine months later he was moved to a sealed cell within the Boniato prison were prison officials placed him on a new minimal caloric consumption diet but by October of 1986 since he refused to break he was subjected to the use of handcuffs and placed in a stress position. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Free Cuban prisoners of conscience Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción and Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola.

120 identified political prisoners: spotlight on two prisoners of conscience

The Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported in June 2018 that there were 120 political prisoners in Cuba with some the longest serving in the Western Hemisphere. Twenty one of them have served between 15 and 27 years in prison.

In this entry will focus on two political prisoners who are recognized by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience. A prisoner of conscience is anyone imprisoned for the non-violent exercise of their beliefs.  Their names are Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción and Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola.
Cardet is a doctor of medicine and Ruiz is a PhD in biology.

Dr. Cardet in addition to being a medical doctor is also the national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement. He has been arbitrarily detained since November 30, 2016 under conditions that qualify as cruel and unusual treatment. He has been subjected to beatings, denied medical treatment and family visits.

On June 21, 2018 the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) reported that "despite the fact that the result of the biopsy was already done, they have not yet informed Eduardo Cardet or his family. Neither did he [Cardet] have knowledge of the denial of his parole, he learned about it through his family in a call today." MCL has a campaign underway on social media to send messages demanding Eduardo Cardet's immediate and unconditional release.
Dr Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, a former university professor and an environmental activist, was arrested on May 3, 2018 and sentenced in Cuba to one-year imprisonment for contempt when he asked two forest rangers to show him their identification. The officials left the area and later in the evening three police officers came with a warrant, arrested and took Ariel to the police Station in Viñales. 

The case of Dr. Ruiz has taken on a new urgency for two reasons.  First the Cuban biologist is on the seventh day of a hunger and thirst strike demanding that he be freed. He is already hospitalized and refusing an intravenous feed. Secondly, there are concerns that his sister suffering from cancer is not being provided proper treatment. There is a social media campaign using the hashtag #FreeAriel underway on twitter.

Rosa María Payá over twitter anounced the stakes in the plight of the biologist and his sister. "The Dictatorship tries to eliminate Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola. Ariel is in critical condition at the Abel Santamaría hospital, under harassment from the political police who keep coercing his sister Omara, a cancer patient."

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Ortega continues the violent crackdown as Nicaragua's bishops place themselves in harms way calling for nonviolence

The Ortega regime unmasked.

Pro-government sniper in Masaya on June 20 reports Tim Rogers.
Situation in Nicaragua continues to worsen with violence escalating along with the number of extrajudicial killings carried out by snipers and paramilitary gangs working in concert with the police. Most likely over 200 have been killed and more than a thousand injured. The Ortega regime has revealed its true colors.
Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International explains the sinister nature of the Nicaraguan regime's call to dialogue"The upsurge of violence and attacks against civilians by Nicaraguan government agents and pro-government armed groups acting with their acquiescence in recent days highlights President Ortega’s insincerity and lack of commitment to resolving this crisis peacefully."

Freedom House yesterday over social media placed the tally in lives taken and people injured. "Two months after the start of the protests in Nicaragua, there are at least 178 dead and more than 1,000 injured. International organizations such as the IACHR have warned of possible extrajudicial executions."
The international community is reacting and demanding an end to the violence. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva is calling for an international commission to investigate the political violence in Nicaragua. 

Meanwhile the Catholic Church in Nicaragua in taking on a heroic role.  This morning over social media the auxilary bishop of Nicaragua tweeted that "Cardinal Leopoldo J. Brenes, Archbishop of Managua, and this servant, Silvio J. Báez, as Auxiliary Bishop, and all the clergy of Managua, will go this morning to Masaya and Monimbo. We want to stop another massacre, comfort our people and pray with them."

At 6:18pm Silvio J. Báez, the auxilary bishop of Nicaragua, tweeted images from their visit to the city targeted in recent days for massacres by the Ortega regime explaining that "the bishops of Managua and the Nuncio this morning visited the suffering city of Masaya, we prayed with our people and we brought them the consolation of God."

Catholic bishops visit Masaya to comfort and pray with the residents.
Agence France Press (AFP) provided the following reporting on what had led to the visit.
Funerals were held for three people killed in clashes in the flashpoint city on Tuesday, bringing to 187 the number killed since protests against Ortega's government began on April 18. At least 23 people have been killed in Masaya, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of the capital Managua. Riot police and paramilitaries had deployed Tuesday in the historically combative city after its declaration of rebellion.
Bishop Silvio J. Báez brought a message of non-violence and a call for an end to the killings that AFP reported as follows.
Managua's auxiliary bishop Silvio Baez called on the crowd not to take justice into their own hands, "not to imitate the same attitudes and criminal acts" as the government forces. "We do not want more criminals in Nicaragua," said Baez, a harsh critic of the government. "I want to remind you of one of God's commandments." "Thou shalt not kill." "To the snipers, to Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo: Not one more death," he said. 
A powerful message backed with the courageous action of accompanying a people under threat of imminent government violence.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

On human rights and wrongs in Switzerland and Nicaragua

Reflections on the US leaving the UN Human Rights Council and the continuing bloodshed in Nicaragua today.

The decision of the United States to leave the United Nations Human Rights Council today is a mistake. This is not to say that the United Nations Human Rights Council is not a flawed instrument made more ineffective by the dictatorships that sit on the international human rights body. This is not to say that UN bureaucrats have not behaved poorly and are deserving of criticism and at times ridicule, but the answer is not disengage and leave the UN Human Rights Council to all these bad actors but challenge them and present a principled alternative.

The first time the United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland was in 2006 and they did not return until 2009, but few remember it. So do the bad actors vying for a seat on the Council.

Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and China are currently on the UN Human Rights Council despite their horrid human rights records. North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Nicaragua have also been member of this human rights body and will be again. They will be able to further leverage their influence on a Council without the United States. It will be a tougher going for victims of repression world wide.

Speaking of victims of repression, while many focused on events in Geneva and in Washington, DC, in Central America a bloody and increasingly dangerous human rights crisis continued to unfold.

In Nicaragua since April 18, 2018 over 200 people have been killed for political reasons. It happened again today in the town of Masaya. The town was once a bastion of support for Ortega and his Sandinista rebels when they overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979, but today it has become a center of resistance to the Ortega regime.

Human rights have been in retreat worldwide for the past twelve years and things are getting worse in many quarters. The United States leaving the UN Human Rights Council does not help to change these trends and only encourages the worse actors to further cripple what was once an august human rights body.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Dictatorships of North Korea and Cuba: A Reflection

There is a need for moral clarity when confronting totalitarians

The spectacle in North Korea was distasteful. When the President of the United States shakes hands with a mass murderer and engages in moral equivalence the cause of liberty suffers from the lack of clarity.

Detente is a false peace that morally compromises democracies.

Nevertheless, one must recall that the current Administration returned North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2017.

On January 6, 2016 North Korea announced that it had detonated a hydrogen bomb. This wasn't supposed to happen. North Korea had been cheating on a deal it had made over 20 years earlier and brazenly announced nearly a decade earlier on October 9, 2006 that it had conducted its first underground nuclear test.

How did the United States respond? In October of 2008, the Bush Administration took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism in the hopes that it would “salvage a fragile nuclear deal” by appeasing the totalitarian regime. George W. Bush was doubling down on the policy set by Bill Clinton. This approach continued to be a failure and on  May 25, 2009 North Korea conducted a second underground test with an explosion that was the equivalent to U.S. bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945.  North Korea had also tested a long-range missile in April of 2009.  In 2013, North Korea conducted a third nuclear test claiming to have miniaturized the bomb in order to place it on a long range missile with ability to reach the U.S. mainland.

On October 18, 1994 President Bill Clinton announced to great fanfare that his administration had achieved a long term objective for the United States in an agreement with North Korea: "an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula."

It is the same claim made by President Donald Trump in 2018 following his meeting with the North Korean tyrant. Only time will tell if President Trump's claims today will ring as hollow as President Clinton's claims in 1994.

Boneheaded political calculations are a bipartisan affair.

There is now a debate over Trump in North Korea and Obama in Cuba, but no one seems to be talking about the relationship between the Cuban dictatorship and the North Korean dictatorship.

The Cuban government was caught red handed on July 15, 2013 providing technology that could aid North Korea's efforts to develop a delivery vehicle to drop their nuclear weapons on the United States mainland.  This was confirmed by a March 6, 2014 report by a panel of experts for the United Nations Security Council that reported:
 6. In addition, various parts for three SA-2 and six SA-3 missiles were in the cargo, such as the nose cones housing proximity fuses, auto-pilots and transponders, transmitter antennas and some actuators (figure 4). 4 __________________ 4 The Panel notes that some of the SA-2 and SA-3 parts could also meet the criteria defined in the list of items, materials, equipment, goods and technology related to ballistic missile programmes (S/2012/947), whose export and import by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are prohibited. See in particular the Category II, Item 9 of S/2012/947 covering “instrumentation, navigation and direction finding”
Back in 2010, the late Fidel Castro reappeared in public warning of a possible nuclear conflict between the United States and Iran. Left out in the media coverage surrounding the story were the two times, once in 1962 and a second time in the early 1980s, when Fidel Castro lobbied the Soviet Union to launch a nuclear first strike on the United States. The Castro brothers arming their North Korean allies by smuggling tons of weapons in violation of international sanctions speaks volumes about both their agendas.

Meanwhile North Koreans suffer some of the worse human rights violations on Earth, and demand that it be a topic on the bilateral agenda between the United States and North Korea.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Amnesty International: Environmental activist sentenced to one-year in prison for contempt.

Cuban environmental activist and prisoner of conscience.

Environmental activist imprisoned

By Amnesty International, Caribbean Team
     Americas Regional Office, International Secretariat

Dr Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, an environmental activist, was sentenced in Cuba to one-year imprisonment for contempt. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released unconditionally and immediately.
Ariel Ruiz Urquiola is a doctor in biological sciences who previously worked as a researcher at the University of Havana. In 2015, he bought a house in the Sierra del Infierno area, in Viñales’ National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Pinar del Río province, western Cuba. After acquiring the right to farm the state land surrounding his house, in 2016 he started an environmental project with his family and friends to preserve local species and to develop sustainable agricultural projects.

On the morning of the 3 May 2018, two forest rangers (a national body in charge of the protection of “forest, wildlife and hunting”) visited Ariel’s land. According to witnesses who spoke with Amnesty International, they asked whether he had the corresponding permits for the construction of a fence around the land, for cutting trees, and for owning a chainsaw. Ariel invited them to come with him to the house to check the permits. On the way, Ariel asked the rangers to show him their identification and after one of them refused to do so, he referred to them as “rural police”. That term was interpreted by the officials as “rural guards” which has a negative connotation in Cuba since it refers to officials from the Batista dictatorship. The rangers left the area and later in the evening three police officers came with a warrant, arrested and took Ariel to the nearby police Station in Viñales.

Based on the judicial documents that Amnesty International was able to review, Ariel was charged with contempt – or disrespecting the rangers - and sentenced on 8 May to one-year imprisonment (the maximum sentence under article 144.1 of the Criminal Code) by the Municipal Court of Viñales .

The decision was confirmed on appeal by the Popular Provincial Court of Pinar del Río on 22 May. According to the family, Ariel’s lawyer only had access to the case file and to Ariel on the same day of the trial. He was first imprisoned at the Provincial Prison of Pinar del Río and on 11 June, the family was informed that he was transferred to the nearby Correctional Cayo Largo. His sister, Omara Urquiola, informed Amnesty International that prison officials threatened her to stop speaking with the international press or they would suspend Ariel’s visits and communication with his family. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola has a history of publicly criticizing Cuban authorities in relation to environmental issues.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

  • Urging the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ariel Ruiz Urquiola as he is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;
  • Urging them to ensure that, pending his release, he is not ill-treated, intimidated or threatened; and that he is granted regular access to family and lawyers of his choosing;
  • Calling on them to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association including for critical voices and to repeal all legislation which unduly limits these rights.
President of the Republic
Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez
Presidente de la República de Cuba
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +41 22 758 9431 (Cuba Office in Geneva); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Email: cuba_onu@cubamission.com (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Your Excellency

Attorney General
Dr. Darío Delgado Cura
Fiscal General de la República
Fiscalía General de la República
Avenida 1ra, Nº 1801 e/ 18 y 20. Reparto Miramar, Municipio Playa
La Habana, CP 11 300, Cuba
Email: relaciones@fgr.cu
Twitter: @FGR_Cuba
Salutation: Dear Attorney General

And solidarity copies to:

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola
Correccional Cayo Largo
Municipio Consolación del Sur
Provincia de Pinar del Río, Cuba
Email: omaraurquiola509@gmail.com

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.


Ariel Ruiz Urquiola has a long history of environmental activism, but according to his family, does not identify as a political opponent of the government. In 2008, during his participation in an international seminar in Mexico as researcher of the University of Havana, he publicly expressed criticism against the alleged illegal fishing of sea turtles in Cuba. In 2009, the University’s authorities suspended his work on sea turtles. Between 2010 and 2013, he continued his work at the University of Havana but switched his research to the study of fauna in the Sierra de los Órganos’ area in the Pinar del Río province. After disagreement with management, he was first downgraded in his position and salary, and in 2016, he was dismissed from the University after alleging repeated absences. Following his dismissal, Ariel publicly criticized the decision saying his dismissal was “an abuse of power.” The dismissal was confirmed by the Municipal Popular Court of Old Havana in a judgement in 2016.

Cuban legislation provides that the state is the owner of most of the land in Cuba. However, usufruct rights on unused state-lands can be acquired by individuals giving them some right to use it for specific reasons provided under the law. In 2016, Ariel Ruiz Urquiola secured such rights over the land in the area surrounding the house that he bought in 2015.

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola’s family believe that authorities have deliberately imprisoned him as reprisal for his environmental activism and as a strategy to deprive him of the state-owned land on which he runs his environmental project. Under national legislation, a user of state-owned land loses the right to use it after being absent from the land, meaning if Ariel is imprisoned for a year he stands to lose the right to cultivate the land.

Amnesty International opposes laws prohibiting insult or disrespect of heads of state or public figures, the military or other public institutions or flags or symbols (such as lèse majesté and desacato laws). Amnesty International also opposes laws criminalizing defamation, whether of public figures or private individuals, which should be treated as a matter for civil litigation.

The offence of “desacato” (contempt) (article 144.1 of Cuba’s Criminal Code) is an undue restriction on the right to freedom of expression, as public officials should tolerate more criticism than private individuals. The use of defamation laws with the purpose or effect of inhibiting legitimate criticism of government or public officials violates the right to freedom of expression.

Name: Doctor Ariel Ruiz Urquiola
Gender m/f: male

UA: 109/18 Index: AMR 25/8541/2018 Issue Date: 11 June 2018

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Health attacks in Cuba and China against U.S. diplomats: The mystery deepens and number of victims rise

More attacks in Cuba and similar attacks now in China

A State Department official told CBS News on June 8, 2018 that two more individuals from the U.S. embassy in Havana were undergoing medical evaluation, and that they could be suffering from the same type of injuries that affected 24 diplomats and family members between late 2016 and August of 2017. Equally disturbing reports have emerged in June of 2018 that U.S. diplomats in Beijing, China have suffered the same injuries along with unusual sounds.

This blog has been following this story since it went public on August 2017. Furthermore that 19 American tourists visiting Cuba were also impacted. All these signs surrounding what has occurred and the harm done is troubling.

Answers are still needed.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas posthumously honored with the Truman Reagan Medal of Freedom

Remembering the courage of those who resist. 

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas: February 29, 1952 – July 22, 2012

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in posthumously honoring Oswaldo Payá with the Truman Reagan Medal of Freedom is bearing witness, continuing the demand for justice, and demonstrating solidarity with Cubans seeking to live in freedom.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was murdered together with Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012 by a regime that feared his civic and nonviolent message that spoke truth to power and endangered their plans for a fraudulent transition that is now underway that seeks to entrench another generation of the Castro dynasty in absolute power in Cuba. 

Rosa Maria Payá and Ofelia Acevedo accept the Medal of Freedom
Yesterday Oswaldo's daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, and widow Ofelia Acevedo received the Medal of Freedom on his behalf. The ceremony began with presentations by Lee Edwards and Marion Smith of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Rosa Maria continues her father's work in the Cuba Decide initiative.
Lee Edwards and Marion Smith of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
Today, his successor in the Christian Liberation Movement, Eduardo Cardet is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and has been jailed since November 30, 2016. 

Past recipients of the award include: H.E. Mart Laar, Hon. Natan Sharansky, Chen Guangcheng, Hon. Lech Wałęsa, Pope John Paul II, H.E. Václav Havel, Wei Jingsheng, Elena Bonner,  and Lane Kirkland.

Below is an excerpt from the ceremony. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Amnesty International denounces that "family of [Cuban] prisoner of conscience denied visits

Reported on this last month. Amnesty International confirmed and published the report yesterday.

Cuba: Family of prisoner of conscience denied visits

, Index number: AMR 25/8537/2018

Cuban authorities have suspended family visiting rights of human rights defender, Dr Eduardo Cardet, for six months as punishment for his family’s activism on his case, according to his wife. He is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally.

On 26 May 2018, the head of the Cuba SI prison in Holguín, Cuba, informed the family of Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción that his rights to family visits have been suspended for six months on account of the complaints that his family have made to the international press and other human rights mechanisms.

Yaimaris Vecino, his wife, told Amnesty International that when she and her children and Eduardo’s mother tried to visit Eduardo they could not see him. Authorities verbally informed the family that Eduardo´s visiting rights had been suspended. According to her, Eduardo is also typically allowed to make calls to his family each Tuesday. On Tuesday 5 June, he did not call, suggesting he was also denied access to his regular phone call.

Eduardo is the leader of the pro-democracy movement Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, MCL). He has been imprisoned in Holguín since his arrest on 30 November 2016, five days after the death of the former leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro. Prior to his arrest, Eduardo Cardet gave a number of interviews published in international media in which he was critical of the Cuban government.

Under international law, prisoners have the right to communicate with the outside world, in particular to receive visits from their families and lawyers, and to access adequate health care. Any restriction on this right, must be necessary and proportionate to achieve its aim, or may amount to an infringement of the right to private and family life. Such rights are fundamental safeguards against other human rights violations, including torture or other ill-treatment.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

Calling on the authorities to release human rights defender Dr Eduardo Cardet immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;

Urging them to ensure that access to his family is immediately reinstated and that he is allowed regular contact with his family and the outside world, as well as access to lawyers and medical care of his choosing.


President of the Republic
Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez
Presidente de la República de Cuba
La Habana, Cuba.
Fax: +41 22 758 9431 (Cuba Office in Geneva); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN, New York)
Email: cuba_onu@cubamission.com (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Your Excellency / Su Excelencia

Ministry of Interior
Vicealmirante Julio César Gandarilla Bermejo
Ministro del Interior
Ministerio del Interior, Plaza de la Revolución. La Habana, Cuba.
Fax: + 53 7 855 6621 + 53 7 8301 566 (or +1 212 779 1697 - via Cuban Mission to UN)
Email: correominint@mn.mn.co.cu
Salutation: Dear Minister / Señor Ministro.

And copies to:

Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación (MCL)
Email: info@oswaldopaya.org
Twitter: @oswaldopaya

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the fourth update of UA 32/17. Further information: www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr25/7759/2018/en/

Additional Information
According to five witnesses who spoke to Amnesty International by telephone on the condition of anonymity, Eduardo Cardet was pushed off his bicycle and violently detained in the early evening of 30 November 2016 by at least four plain clothed and one uniformed police officer as he returned home after visiting his mother. According to his wife, who witnessed her husband’s detention with their two children, Eduardo Cardet is charged with attacking an official of the state (atentado). This offence is covered under Article 142.1 of the Criminal Code. One officer is alleging that Eduardo Cardet pushed him during his arrest. All witnesses who spoke with Amnesty International counter this allegation, and state that Eduardo Cardet was quickly and violently restrained by plain clothed officials, placed in handcuffs, and beaten, and had no opportunity for self-defence. The witnesses believe that Eduardo Cardet was arrested for his beliefs and ideas. Amnesty International was able to review a copy of the sentence at appeal emitted by the provincial court of Holguin. The sentence makes no mention of the original grounds for the arrest, suggesting the arrest was arbitrary. On 17 May, the Popular Provincial Court of Holguín (Tribunal Provincial Popular de Holguín) ratified in appeal the judgement handed down on 20 March sentencing Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción to three years in prison.

The Christian Liberation Movement (Movimento Cristiano Liberación, MCL) is a prominent actor in the pro-democracy movement in Cuba. According to its website, it is a movement for peaceful and democratic change and respect for human dignity. It was founded in 1988 by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who became a visible figure of the Cuban political opposition, and four other activists. Amnesty International has documented harassment and intimidation of members of the MCL for decades. In 1991, after Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas presented a petition calling for a national referendum relating to constitutional reform, he had his home destroyed by over 200 people, said to be members of a Rapid Response Brigade. After Oswaldo Payá announced his intention to put himself forward as a candidate for deputy to the National Assembly for the municipality of Cerro, Havana, members of his organization were reportedly subjected to frequent questioning and short-term detention.

In an interview published on 16 September 2016 by ABC International, Eduardo Cardet stated: “Political activities are passed off as criminal offences such as inciting public scandal, contempt of or offences against the authorities, and the political police use these classifications to lock up dissidents" (Se disfraza la actividad política con hechos delictivos comunes, por ejemplo, escándalo público, desacato, atentado, figuras que utiliza la policía política para encarcelar a los disidentes).

Cuba is closed to Amnesty International and nearly all independent international human rights monitors.

Name: Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción
Gender m/f: Male
Further information on UA: 32/17 Index: AMR 25/8537/2018 Issue Date: 07 June 2018

Monday, June 4, 2018

Tiananmen Square at 29: Remembrance and a call to action

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." - Milan Kundera
Tonight on the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre we gathered by the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, DC and at 8:00pm began a vigil for all those killed. Survivors gathered and gave their testimony. 
We listened to Fang Zheng, who lost both his legs after they were crushed by a Chinese tank 29 years ago. Last month, like tonight, he was introduced by Yang Jianli, another survivor of Tiananmen at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Tonight I listened to Cui Jian's song, Piece of Red Cloth, that he played for protesters during the 1989 Tiananmen protests, it remains a powerful song today.

In Hong Kong over a 115,000 people gathered in a candlelight vigil in remembrance of those killed on June 4, 1989 in China.
Following the June 4, 1989 crackdown and massacre on June 5th one man stood up to a line of tanks involved in the Tiananmen Square slaughter to express his moral outrage and blocked them. At the same time it is important to remember that the driver in that lead tank refused to run over the protester. Both individuals are heroes and both their fates remain unknown.

The 2004 Frontline Documentary Tankman explores the significance of this act, and attempted to discover what happened. Now Initiatives for China has a campaign underway to petition the Chinese government to reveal the truth of what happened to the two
Tiananmen tank men. Please sign the petition to find out what happened to the tank men.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Remembering the Tiananmen Square massacre 29 years later

The truth of Beijing's June 1989 massacre declassified

Before the massacre: Chinese youth gather in Tiananmen Square in June of 1989
 Two weeks prior to the Tiananmen Square massacre then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping observed: “Two hundred dead could bring 20 years of peace to China.” A recently declassified British diplomatic cable reveals that "at least 10,000 people were killed in the Chinese army's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989." This blog has remembered the events of those terrible days over the years and the continuing repression in China today. Agence France Press reported some of the horrors contained in the diplomatic cable:

The document, made public more than 28 years after the event, describes injured girls being bayoneted, bodies being ground up by armoured vehicles and human remains being flushed into the sewers. "Minimum estimate of civilian dead 10,000," the then British ambassador Alan Donald said in the secret telegram to London seen by AFP at Britain's National Archives.

Chinese military cracking down in June of 1989 in Beijing.
  Quotes taken from the document itself:

"The 27 Army APCs [armoured personnel carriers] opened fire on the crowd before running over them. APCs ran over troops and civilians at 65kph [40 miles per hour].”

"Students understood they were given one hour to leave square, but after five minutes APCs attacked. Students linked arms but were mown down. APCs then ran over the bodies time and time again to make, quote ‘pie’ unquote, and remains collected by bulldozer. Remains incinerated and then hosed down drains."

"Army troops had used dum-dum bullets and snipers shot many civilians on balconies, street sweepers etc for target practice. "

"Army ordered to spare no one. Wounded girl students begged for their lives but were bayoneted.
A three-year-old girl was injured, but her mother was shot as she went to her aid, as were six others.”

"1,000 survivors were told they could escape but were then mown down by specially prepared MG [machine gun] positions."

"Army ambulances who attempted to give aid were shot up, as was a Sino-Japanese hospital ambulance. With medical crew dead, wounded driver attempted to ram attackers but was blown to pieces by anti-tank weapon."

"Army officer shot dead by own troops, apparently because he faltered. Troops explained they would be shot if they hadn’t shot the officer. "

"Minimum estimate of civilian dead 10,000."
The nature of the Chinese communist regime has not changed and its cruelty continues to the present day, but so does the heroic resistance of many Chinese.

The late Liu Xiaobo with his wife Liu Xia, who remains under house arrest
 Last year, on July 13, 2017,  Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo died of "multiple organ failure" while still under the custody of the Chinese communists. Friends and family expressed concern that he had not received proper medical care. The nonviolent dissident, scholar and prisoner of conscience was arrested on June 23, 2009 and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China. Still imprisoned from the June 2009 arrest he was sentenced to 11 years in prison on December 25, 2009 following a political show trial.  Liu Xiaobo was told by prison authorities on October 9, 2010 that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. When his wife Liu Xia visited him in prison the prisoner of conscience told her: “This is for the lost souls of June 4th.” Dedicating the prize to the demonstrators killed in Tiananmen Square  on June 4, 1989. Liu Xia remains under house arrest in China, but there are campaigns underway to obtain her freedom.

Meanwhile in Washington, DC the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation will hold a candlelight vigil on June 4th from 8:00pm to 9:00pm at the Victims of Communism Memorial Massachusetts Ave NW & New Jersey Ave NW Washington, DC, 20001 United States in observance of this terrible anniversary.